Los Angeles, CA (November 5, 2020)—Don’t underestimate the value of a solid workflow and staff rapport in the formula for what makes a compelling podcast. “At Stitcher, we have a pretty great system in terms of giving our shows the proper treatment they need from an engineering perspective,” says Jordan Bell, who created All American: Tiger Woods and serves as the podcast’s writer, co-host and producer.
Working with co-host Albert Chen, audio engineer Casey Holford and the engineering team, Bell says the podcast’s switch from a typical production arrangement of writing, face-to-face meetings and table reads to a virtual process was seamless. “[It] has been quite a different experience to just plan and predict and try to do the best we can,” she says. “But I think one of the biggest things [is] major kudos to our whole engineering team for what they did at the start of this, because we have a really great system.”
That system includes a pivot from tape syncs in which a producer would travel to a guest’s location to record audio, to shipping audio kits so guests can record themselves locally. The typical kit includes a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 interface paired with a Samson Q2U USB microphone or a Shure SM58—always with a foam windscreen, which Holford calls “the savior of home recording during the pandemic”—as well as detailed instructions for setting up a successful recording.
First-person interviews aren’t the only audio sources on All American: Tiger Woods. In fact, Bell goes to great lengths to include familiar audio from the golf superstar’s public life to connect listeners to his whirlwind career of 82 PGA Tour wins, including a comeback victory at the 2019 Masters Tournament.
“When we’re revisiting this history, we want to put things in a fresh perspective,” she says. “So, using a piece of tape that you hadn’t heard for a while, when you listen to it 10 years later and wrap it in all this new context, it’s going to take on a different meaning. And we hope that gives that effect to listeners.”
Those audio clips form one of the podcast’s most unusual sonic features—the footage from golf tournaments where the key moments are silent, when the spectators are watching what’s about to happen. “That feature pops out in every episode when I’m mixing,” says Holford. “The apex moments are quite silent and then followed by a huge reaction. It’s almost more engaging than actually watching footage of this stuff, or it engages a part of the mind that goes, ‘What’s about to happen?’”
Another key storytelling component is the podcast’s theme music, which Holford composed using a variety of acoustic instruments that signal an Americana vibe. “I wanted to make the music conceptually in a way that seemed to me like it was blending different elements of American music,” he explains. “I used jazz elements, hip-hop elements and folk elements. I made a washtub bass and a one-string slide guitar called the diddley bow, and we played them both. I wanted it to sound like a mishmash of an American musical experience.”
Holford applies stems of the theme music to fill in the audio and create transitions, stings and bumpers. He has the theme broken down into eight stems highlighting various instruments and uses them to sketch remixes of the theme as needed. “I can mix and match those for different flavors depending on my own internal compass,” he says. “The use of stems this way lets us have a unifying musical flavor across the whole series.”